Edward De Bono, Creativity and Democracy

I recently had the chance to meet Edward De Bono at  a workshop run by Edward at the National Speaker’s Association Conference on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Edward ran through his key ideas, including the historical legacy of the Greek philosophers’ ‘gang of three’, the use of Greek philosophical ideas and thinking styles by the Church, the idea of Parallel Thinking, some of the Lateral Thinking tools, and of course De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method.

Edward had us running through a Six Thinking Hats session in small groups, around the question: “should marriage be a 5 year contract?” We went through a sequence of hats in small groups of 3 or 4 participants in each group and, if you’re interested, at the end of the session we had around 40% of the groups for, 30% against, and 30% with ‘maybe’ or ‘it’s complicated’.

Facilitation Approach

There were a couple of interesting things about Edward’s facilitation of the session.

One was that Edward did not use Powerpoint or Keynote slides, instead he used an “old school” overhead projector with blank transparencies he could write on with a marker pen. This allowed a great deal of flexibility and creativity in communicating his frameworks and tailoring his presentation to the questions the audience raised.

Secondly, Edward started with asking us to make a list of the greatest problems in the world, and of course people listed overpopulation, climate change, war, and so on. Edward then made the point that underlying any of these problems was a problem with thinking, that poor thinking is in fact the number one problem the world faces. Thinking differently and better is in fact one of the greatest things we can do not only for ourselves and our businesses but also for the world.

Reinventing Western Democracy

Edward then gave some examples of how thinking differently can change not only people’s lives and corporate successes, but also the world.

One example I was particularly interested in was Edward’s ideas on democracy as I was thinking about this myself some years ago. Edward noted that a two party adversarial system may not necessarily produce the best outcomes, as the opposition tends to oppose rather than to contribute constructively. For example, in Australia, Question Time in parliament is singularly unedifying, and is perhaps more reminiscent of school children quarrelling in a school yard rather than statesmen and stateswomen constructively building a better country and a better future. We therefore have the same problem on the political level that Edward has been discussing for some decades on the level of thinking styles: a critical debate with opposing parties rather than a collaborative effort to identify and deliver solutions. Edward proposed a solution: instead of having a parliament with one party elected to govern with perhaps a 60% vote and a second party opposing with say a 40% vote (putting aside third parties for the moment), Edward suggested having 30% block directly voted in by public opinion independent of political party lines to act as a moderating force and to advocate the public interest rather than any political line. The challenge, of course, would be how to keep that 30% from becoming politicised or overly influenced by lobby groups or other vested interests.

When some years ago I thought through how I would restructure western democracy if I were given the chance, I developed a similar diagnosis but a different prescription. The key problem as I see it is how to facilitate voting good people in to politics in the appropriate roles and letting them be good in them. Political parties may say or do ‘anything’ to get elected. They will make alliances of convenience with powerful interests such as the media, big business, or unions, and they will take populist poll driven positions (which is not necessarily bad in itself in a democratic system). When a party gets elected however, it is not always the best person for the job who fills any role: it is a complex allocation system that balances party relationships and internal politics with the capabilities and contributions of members to fill the leadership roles. Someone may be handed a critically important portfolio because they provided crucial internal political support rather than any capacity in or interest in the portfolio to which they are assigned. In addition, good people appointed in to those roles may be constrained by agreements developed by the party they represent, and over time well motivated people may change and adapt as they learn to work within the system so that their focus becomes as much about politics as it is about results.

My proposition is simple: what if we could split western democratic elections in to two phases or stages: a first election about the ideas and directions for the next term in government – the goals and aspirations  that the people want the government to fulfil. Then run a second and completely independent election to determine the best people to fill those specific roles. Thus for example a democratic population could vote in not only the directions that are appropriate, for example health reform or financial reform, but they can also then call for suitable candidates to lead each portfolio and vote in specific people with appropriate backgrounds (for example in health reform or financial reform) to lead those portfolios and the implementation of those changes. A professor of health administration or economics or business administration or someone with deep industry experience in those areas would then have a much better chance of being selected than in our current system. And perhaps also we could focus each individual representing the country on serving the country and the world, rather than any party system.

So there we have it: two ideas to help think differently about western democracy. And using creativity tools such as the De Bono techniques, I’m sure you could think of many more! Let me know what you think, and how we could be thinking differently about western democracy.

One Response to Edward De Bono, Creativity and Democracy
  1. Graeme Allan
    May 8, 2010 | 6:34 AM

    Hi Lauchlan,
    Interesting post and insights. Thanks.
    Check out some more:
    http://newmillenniumthinking.blogspot.com

Edward De Bono, Creativity and Democracy

I recently had the chance to meet Edward De Bono at  a workshop run by Edward at the National Speaker’s Association Conference on the Gold Coast in Australia.

Edward ran through his key ideas, including the historical legacy of the Greek philosophers’ ‘gang of three’, the use of Greek philosophical ideas and thinking styles by the Church, the idea of Parallel Thinking, some of the Lateral Thinking tools, and of course De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats method.

Edward had us running through a Six Thinking Hats session in small groups, around the question: “should marriage be a 5 year contract?” We went through a sequence of hats in small groups of 3 or 4 participants in each group and, if you’re interested, at the end of the session we had around 40% of the groups for, 30% against, and 30% with ‘maybe’ or ‘it’s complicated’.

Facilitation Approach

There were a couple of interesting things about Edward’s facilitation of the session.

One was that Edward did not use Powerpoint or Keynote slides, instead he used an “old school” overhead projector with blank transparencies he could write on with a marker pen. This allowed a great deal of flexibility and creativity in communicating his frameworks and tailoring his presentation to the questions the audience raised.

Secondly, Edward started with asking us to make a list of the greatest problems in the world, and of course people listed overpopulation, climate change, war, and so on. Edward then made the point that underlying any of these problems was a problem with thinking, that poor thinking is in fact the number one problem the world faces. Thinking differently and better is in fact one of the greatest things we can do not only for ourselves and our businesses but also for the world.

Reinventing Western Democracy

Edward then gave some examples of how thinking differently can change not only people’s lives and corporate successes, but also the world.

One example I was particularly interested in was Edward’s ideas on democracy as I was thinking about this myself some years ago. Edward noted that a two party adversarial system may not necessarily produce the best outcomes, as the opposition tends to oppose rather than to contribute constructively. For example, in Australia, Question Time in parliament is singularly unedifying, and is perhaps more reminiscent of school children quarrelling in a school yard rather than statesmen and stateswomen constructively building a better country and a better future. We therefore have the same problem on the political level that Edward has been discussing for some decades on the level of thinking styles: a critical debate with opposing parties rather than a collaborative effort to identify and deliver solutions. Edward proposed a solution: instead of having a parliament with one party elected to govern with perhaps a 60% vote and a second party opposing with say a 40% vote (putting aside third parties for the moment), Edward suggested having 30% block directly voted in by public opinion independent of political party lines to act as a moderating force and to advocate the public interest rather than any political line. The challenge, of course, would be how to keep that 30% from becoming politicised or overly influenced by lobby groups or other vested interests.

When some years ago I thought through how I would restructure western democracy if I were given the chance, I developed a similar diagnosis but a different prescription. The key problem as I see it is how to facilitate voting good people in to politics in the appropriate roles and letting them be good in them. Political parties may say or do ‘anything’ to get elected. They will make alliances of convenience with powerful interests such as the media, big business, or unions, and they will take populist poll driven positions (which is not necessarily bad in itself in a democratic system). When a party gets elected however, it is not always the best person for the job who fills any role: it is a complex allocation system that balances party relationships and internal politics with the capabilities and contributions of members to fill the leadership roles. Someone may be handed a critically important portfolio because they provided crucial internal political support rather than any capacity in or interest in the portfolio to which they are assigned. In addition, good people appointed in to those roles may be constrained by agreements developed by the party they represent, and over time well motivated people may change and adapt as they learn to work within the system so that their focus becomes as much about politics as it is about results.

My proposition is simple: what if we could split western democratic elections in to two phases or stages: a first election about the ideas and directions for the next term in government – the goals and aspirations  that the people want the government to fulfil. Then run a second and completely independent election to determine the best people to fill those specific roles. Thus for example a democratic population could vote in not only the directions that are appropriate, for example health reform or financial reform, but they can also then call for suitable candidates to lead each portfolio and vote in specific people with appropriate backgrounds (for example in health reform or financial reform) to lead those portfolios and the implementation of those changes. A professor of health administration or economics or business administration or someone with deep industry experience in those areas would then have a much better chance of being selected than in our current system. And perhaps also we could focus each individual representing the country on serving the country and the world, rather than any party system.

So there we have it: two ideas to help think differently about western democracy. And using creativity tools such as the De Bono techniques, I’m sure you could think of many more! Let me know what you think, and how we could be thinking differently about western democracy.

One Response to Edward De Bono, Creativity and Democracy
  1. Graeme Allan
    May 8, 2010 | 6:34 AM

    Hi Lauchlan,
    Interesting post and insights. Thanks.
    Check out some more:
    http://newmillenniumthinking.blogspot.com